NAIROBI, At least 40 more helicopters are set to be licensed to operate in Kenya, pushing the total number of operational helicopters to 100, according to Kenya Civil Aviation Authority Director-General Gilbert Kibe.

The need for additional helicopters will be mainly because of the Aug 8 general election in the country with politicians preferring to use the choppers to move from one part of the country to another.

Despite the increase, however, Kenya faces a shortage of helicopter pilots with the gap currently filled by foreign pilots.

Currently, there are 88 commercially registered helicopters of which 60 are operational.

The rising demand for helicopters has mainly been fueled by corporate clients as well as politicians.

It currently costs at least two million shillings (about 19,350 US dollars) to train a helicopter pilot with the relevant documentation while licensing costing another five million shillings.

Kibe says the prohibitive costs have seen many Kenyans shy away from pursuing the course and the shortage of helicopter pilots as well as aeronautical engineers in the country is currently being filled by expatriates.

The KCAA is also concerned about the high cost of commercial air travel both locally and in the East Africa sub-region. It has scheduled a meeting bringing together aviation players, regulators as well as government representatives to address this issue.

Kibe is proposing that the entire East African airspace be categorized as domestic to reduce charges from the current 50 dollars to five dollars per head. Such a reduction, coupled with a reduction in government levies, can help reduce the cost of air tickets for those flying within East Africa.